How Jacksonville Won the Josh Allen Bowl
NFL Week 9 - The most viewed set of Super Smash Bros. Melee of all time isn't a Grand Finals or a matchup between two of the fighting game's top competitors. Instead, it's a measly side event, a money match that took place at Apex 2015 between Sweden's William "Leffen" Hjelte and America's Kashan "Chillin" Khan. Leffen and Chillin are two longtime veterans of the fighting game community who both play the same character: Fox, titular character of Nintendo franchise "Star Fox" and Melee's all-around best character. After over a year of trash talk and back-and-forths, the two agreed to allow one set to settle their rivalry once and for all. Fox vs. Fox. First to win five games. Winner walks away with $100. Loser is never allowed to use the default Fox skin in tournament ever again, a status symbol in fighting games preventing the loser from ever calling themselves a "real" Fox player. Leffen went on to wipe the floor with Chillin, coasting to a 5-0 victory. The set is now referred to among Melee fans as "The 5-0," or simply "My B," Chillin's post-match apology to Leffen for wasting his time for over a year.
After watching Sunday's game between Buffalo and Jacksonville, it might be time for the Bills quarterback to follow in the footsteps of Chillin and cede the name "Josh Allen" to its rightful owner, the Jaguars edge rusher.
For Jacksonville's Josh Allen, this may go down as the top performance of his young career. He set a new career mark with eight tackles, all of which were solo. He notched his first career interception and first career fumble recovery in the same afternoon. NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano noted that Allen is the only NFL player to record a sack, interception, and fumble recovery in a single game over the last three seasons.
Allen held up his end of the Josh Allen Bowl, but this defensive performance by Jacksonville certainly wasn't the product of one individual. Jacksonville's defense ran a lot of zone-heavy two-high looks against Buffalo, often forcing quarterback Josh Allen to check down or throw into tight windows. This was Buffalo's only game so far this year without a play of 30-plus yards on offense. This was also just the second game this year without a reception of 30-plus yards, the other being last week's win over Miami.
Dropping seven into coverage led Buffalo's Josh Allen to his second-longest average time-to-throw this year. Forcing the quarterback to hold the ball longer meant Jacksonville could generate pressure just by rushing four. Without tackle Spencer Brown and guard Jon Feliciano, the Bills defense was unable to handle the most textbook pass rush concepts from Jacksonville.
Buffalo's offensive line entered this game fourth in our pass protection rankings, allowing eight sacks on the year and boasting an adjusted sack rate of 4.4%. In Week 9, the Bills allowed four sacks and eight QB hits. That is the most sacks allowed in a single game by Buffalo's offensive line this season. Rob Quinn of Cover 1 noted on Twitter that this was also the third game this season the Bills allowed 20-plus pressures, adding that everyone except Mitch Morse gave up a sack and five pressures on Sunday. Alongside Jacksonville's Josh Allen, defensive end Dawuane Smoot and defensive tackle Taven Bryan had themselves a field day in the Bills backfield.
The few times Jacksonville did decide to blitz, it proved disastrous for Buffalo's offensive line. On the Josh-Allen-to-Josh-Allen interception in the third quarter, the Jaguars blitz two linebackers, one of whom flies into the backfield completely untouched. By the time Buffalo's Josh Allen is able to receive the snap and begin his progression, the right side of the Bills offensive line has been driven 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Both the right-side guard and tackle lose their assignments; three teal jerseys are now in hot pursuit of Allen. Allen is able to avoid pressure, but he misses his checkdown pass a good 4 or 5 yards to the left of his target. Jacksonville's Josh Allen tracks the pass from the far hash and ends up being gifted his first career interception.
I focus so much on Jacksonville's defense because their offense failed to produce for the vast majority of this game. Trevor Lawrence's 118 yards passing matches a season-low, and his 57.7% completion rate is his third-lowest as a rookie. (Interestingly, this somehow ended up being Lawrence's third-highest QBR performance of the season.) The Jaguars also had their second-fewest yards per carry in a game this year. Jacksonville went 2-of-13 on third down, with one of those being picked up by C.J. Beathard through the air.
Buffalo's carelessness helped a stalling Jaguars offense stay in the game. Six of Jacksonville's 16 first downs came from penalties. Every drive that ended in a Jaguars field goal attempt featured a Bills defensive penalty that helped reset downs and push Jacksonville closer into kicking range.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin may have put it best in his postgame press conference: The Jaguars simply wanted this win more than the Bills did. "I was just looking at their sideline, one thing I noticed—I was like 'I don't think they have the same energy as us.'" said Griffin. "If you feel like one team deserved this win, it's us. But you've got to believe that. That's one thing I kept preaching. I let everybody else [know]. Look on these sidelines. You're watching them walking around like they don't care."
Where the Game Swung
|Qtr||Time||Down||To Go||Yard Line||WP Change||Play|
|4||1:18||3||7||JAX 39||+28.4%||Josh Allen (BUF) sacked by Dawuane Smoot|
|4||1:11||4||16||JAX 48||+22.3%||Josh Allen (BUF) fails to convert fourth down to Stefon Diggs|
|4||5:41||3||2||JAX 37||+17.9%||Dawuane Smoot forces Josh Allen (BUF) to fumble, Josh Allen (JAX) recovers|
|3||2:02||3||12||BUF 40||+15.9%||Josh Allen (BUF) intercepted by Josh Allen (JAX)|
|2||1:33||1||10||BUF 20||-15.1%||Carlos Hyde loses fumble, Levi Wallace recovers for Buffalo|
I hope the play descriptions are easy enough to read. It gets tough to differentiate two players with the same name on opposite teams, especially when they interact so often.
This game remained firmly in Buffalo's control for most of the afternoon. The fact that three of the Bills' last nine offensive plays were the top three biggest swings in win probability show just how attainable this win was for Buffalo. Like Shaquill Griffin said, Jacksonville just wanted it more.
By the DVOA
The 2021 Jacksonville Jaguars have finally finished a game with a positive total DVOA, leaving the Atlanta Falcons as the last remaining team without one. Jacksonville's -54.9% defensive DVOA is their best single-game performance since Week 11 of the 2017 season, during the height of #Sacksonville. This game pulled Jacksonville out of the basement of defensive DVOA, rising from 32nd to 27th after Week 9. Buffalo drops out of the top spot in total DVOA down to fourth overall. This is the second-worst offensive DVOA performance for the Bills under Josh Allen's tutelage, only eclipsed by Week 4 of 2018 against the Green Bay Packers. Buffalo has now fallen down to 19th in offensive DVOA. The Bills also have the highest variance of any team since the 2012 Giants. If the season ended today, the 2021 Buffalo Bills would be a top-10 variance team all-time.
Circling the Wagons
This loss to Jacksonville has sent shockwaves throughout the rest of the NFL. Some of the teams we perceived to be contenders at the halfway point of the season—the Bills, Cowboys, Rams, and Packers—all dropped big games this week. Buffalo needs to shape up quickly before the AFC playoff picture really turns on them.
The Tennessee Titans took down one of the best teams in the league without Derrick Henry, the backbone of their offense. The Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers officially jumped Buffalo in conference standings after the loss. Within the division, the New England Patriots now sit just a half-game behind the Bills in the standings with two matchups yet to be played. In a conference where 11 teams currently sit above .500, there are going to be some talented clubs who miss playoff berths this year. If Buffalo lets this loss get to them, things could go very south very quickly.
The bright side for this game? Most of the reasons Buffalo lost are correctable. The Bills line will continue to get healthy, and Dawson Knox is expected to practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday. The Bills' penalty mistakes, while inexcusable, are something that can be corrected. Buffalo finished the afternoon with 12 penalties, good for 118 yards. Seventy yards of penalties in the first half—including four personal foul calls—is something Buffalo cannot afford to repeat against a better opponent.
One thing that does worry me, though, is Josh Allen's passing. This is Allen's second straight game averaging below 6.0 yards per attempt, and his second straight game without a reception of 30-plus yards. Ben Gretch of RotoViz noted on Twitter that prior to the bye, Allen never posted an average depth of target lower than 8.2 yards. In the two games since, Allen's aDOT has been 5.6 and 6.1 yards, respectively.
Allen was often forced into scrambles and checkdowns given how little time his line gave him to throw. However, mixing pressure with two-high zone looks really caused Allen some problems in this game. One of the most exciting parts of Allen's game as a passer is his ability to launch one downfield at a moment's notice. Constantly forcing Allen to check down and look underneath eliminates one of his greatest strengths. With a little more time to dissect the zone and allow receivers to get open, Allen may still be able to connect downfield, even when teams drop seven into coverage. Until this line is back to being healthy, however, Buffalo is going to need to find some way to revamp this Bills defense before the rest of the AFC catches up to them.